SXSW 2022 Review: Sissy

Blood, gore, and social commentary are on full display in Hannah Barlow & Kane Senes’ Sissy, a wicked horror-thriller that plays on all of today’s overblown societal norms and trends, while also cleverly parodying the excesses of youth culture.

Cecelia, aka “Sissy” (Aisha Lee) is an Instagram influencer and self-help guru who has over 200k followers. She provides tips and advice on everything from makeup tutorials to self-love. She seems kind, sweet, and thoughtful…. when she’s online. Logged off, she is awkward, messy, likes to eat junk food, and lives a very lonely/mundane existence.

That changes when she runs into Emma (Barlow), an old but very dear childhood friend. Of course, they have the usual catching up to do after drifting apart for years. Emma reveals to her that she is engaged to be married and invites her to a party to meet her friends Tracey (Yerin Ha), Jamie (Daniel Monks), as well as fiancé Fran (Lucy Barrett). She breaks out of her shell a little during a karaoke session and reconnects with Emma a little. It is there where she’s invited to a weekend bachelorette party at a remote cabin. She agrees to come.

Everything sounds promising at first, but Cecelia finds out that Alex (Emily De Margheriti), a childhood bully with a nasty grudge, is there as well. This obviously creates some major friction between the two, especially around dinner as Emma tells everyone about Cecelia’s job as an influencer. Alex immediately calls her out on it, thinking that she’s being paid for people’s pain, which makes her look foolish. She goes to the bathroom sobbing where Emma comforts her.

The next day, everyone is relaxing near a lake, making fun of Cecelia (except for Emma). Alex reveals to them that Cecelia is a monster and shows the scar that from a childhood incident. When everyone else leaves, Cecelia tells Alex how sorry she is about what happened, but Alex isn’t buying it. She sees right through her fakery and threatens to reveal to all her followers that she isn’t whom she appears to be. She takes a rock (one that was given Emma and Fran as an engagement present) and bashes Alex in the head. She then buries her, and this is the turning point of the film where Cecelia’s true nature comes out.

Afterwards, she eventually kills Jamie (pushing him off a cliff), Tracey (drowning her in a tub), and Fran (running over her with a car). The only ones left are her and Emma, so we think. Alex, believing to be dead, comes back to life. While this happens, Emma comes across Cecelia lying on the floor with bloody bruises (self-inflicted of course) and finds the corpses of both Tracey and Fran. She figures out that Cecelia is the killer (after seeing her wearing Alex’s necklace). When she tries to explain, Emma tries to get away, which causes to fall and pass out. When she wakes up, she is tied to a chair and her hair is cut by Cecelia and dyed red. She shows her the videotapes they made when they were kids, as a way of trying to apologize. Emma frees herself and throws their time capsule box into a fireplace, which really pisses Cecelia off. Feeling betrayed, she attacks Emma. Then Alex shows up and accidentally kills Emma. When she tries to kill Cecelia, she is shot dead by a cop.

In the last moments of the film, Cecelia makes a new post to her followers about her traumatic weekend and saying how being the sole survivor has made her stronger. She also shows everyone her new memoir (because even murderers write books too). The end.

I’m sorry that I gave away all of the plot, but I wanted to express how much I admired this film by detailing it. It has so many facets and aspects to it that helps it rise above standard horror. There are themes of toxic female friendship, questionable loyalty, bullying, the falsity of social media, interracial romance, and extreme mental illness.

Most of the characters are really unlikable, which is deliberate to prove the nastiness of youth culture. This is a very interesting element because you’re never sure of who to root for. This makes the film even more intriguing. Lee dominates the film with her incredible and sinister performance as Cecelia. She creates a certain complexity with this role and make it watchable, even when she goes insane. Margheriti is really good too as Alex. She’s a bitch but there are times where she makes a lot of sense. Barlow (who co-directed the film) is solid too. Her Emma is one you really have the most sympathy for because she is caught between the power play of Lee and Margheriti, where they subtly vie for her friendship.

To think I almost overlooked Sissy. It’s a smart, bloody, and unpredictable ride that could and should be a definite highlight during SXSW 2022.


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